Huntingtin cleavage product A forms in neurons and is reduced by gamma-secretase inhibitors

Kimberly B. Kegel, Ellen Sapp, Jonathan Alexander, Patrick Reeves, Dorothee Bleckmann, Linsday Sobin, Nicholas Masso, Antonio Valencia, Hyunkyung Jeong, Dimitri Krainc, James Palacino, Daniel Curtis, Rainer Kuhn, Claudia Betschart, Miguel Sena-Esteves, Neil Aronin, Paolo Paganetti, Marian Difiglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: The mutation in Huntington's disease is a polyglutamine expansion near the N-terminus of huntingtin. Huntingtin expressed in immortalized neurons is cleaved near the N-terminus to form N-terminal polypeptides known as cleavage products A and B (cpA and cpB). CpA and cpB with polyglutamine expansion form inclusions in the nucleus and cytoplasm, respectively. The formation of cpA and cpB in primary neurons has not been established and the proteases involved in the formation of these fragments are unknown. Results. Delivery of htt cDNA into the mouse striatum using adeno-associated virus or into primary cortical neurons using lentivirus generated cpA and cpB, indicating that neurons in brain and in vitro can form these fragments. A screen of small molecule protease inhibitors introduced to clonal striatal X57 cells and HeLa cells identified compounds that reduced levels of cpA and are inhibitors of the aspartyl proteases cathepsin D and cathepsin E. The most effective compound, P1-N031, is a transition state mimetic for aspartyl proteases. By western blot analysis, cathepsin D was easily detected in clonal striatal X57 cells, mouse brain and primary neurons, whereas cathepsin E was only detectible in clonal striatal X57 cells. In primary neurons, levels of cleavage product A were not changed by the same compounds that were effective in clonal striatal cells or by mRNA silencing to partially reduce levels of cathepsin D. Instead, treating primary neurons with compounds that are known to inhibit gamma secretase activity either indirectly (Imatinib mesylate, Gleevec) or selectively (LY-411,575 or DAPT) reduced levels of cpA. LY-411,575 or DAPT also increased survival of primary neurons expressing endogenous full-length mutant huntingtin. Conclusion. We show that cpA and cpB are produced from a larger huntingtin fragment in vivo in mouse brain and in primary neuron cultures. The aspartyl protease involved in forming cpA has cathepsin-D like properties in immortalized neurons and gamma secretase-like properties in primary neurons, suggesting that cell type may be a critical factor that specifies the aspartyl protease responsible for cpA. Since gamma secretase inhibitors were also protective in primary neurons, further study of the role of gamma-secretase activity in HD neurons is justified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number58
JournalMolecular neurodegeneration
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology


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